Hispanic IT pros: front and center at tech-savvy companies
“The CIO of Facebook is Hispanic. So are the CIOs of Hewlett Packard, AT&T and GE Capital – all global companies.” – Andre Arbelaez, HITEC
“We work hard. We love to laugh and have fun, and we’re good team members. Those things are valued in any company.” – Baldomero Valle, 3M
By Dan Margherita
Senior Contributing Editor
'Traditional technology companies have already become more open to diversity, and Hispanics are right out in front,” says Andre Arbelaez. “The CIO of Facebook is Hispanic. So are the CIOs of companies like Hewlett Packard, AT&T, and GE Capital – all global companies.
“And today everybody is becoming a technology company,” Arbelaez points out, as employers from the military to retail rely more and more on manipulation of big data to analyze the past, manage daily operations and plan the future of their organizations.
Arbelaez is president of the Hispanic IT Executive Council (HITEC, Novi, MI). HITEC is a global executive leadership organization of senior Hispanic business and IT executives. Its members are leaders at Global 1000 corporations, including some of the largest Hispanic-owned IT firms across the Americas.
He believes that Hispanics add value to their organizations through their awareness of global culture and are adept at picking up on cultural issues. “It’s because of the way we were raised; for example, many of us learned English as a second language,” he says.
Arbelaez, who graduated from college in the early 1990s, sees similarities and differences between then and now. “What hasn’t changed is the need to work hard, get good grades, and engage in many different college experiences, associations and leadership positions,” he says. “What has changed is the personal exposure. Employers use Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media tools to hire more effectively. Based upon your interests and habits, corporations can pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses as a candidate. A lot of companies are using analytics to find better employees. That’s what it’s all about today.”
Baldomero Valle is an international IT infrastructure liaison at 3M
In summer 1996, Baldomero Valle was a migrant worker for the Green Giant company in Montgomery, MN during its corn season. Today, he is IT infrastructure liaison at 3M Company (St. Paul, MN).
“The company’s IT function operates in three regions,” he explains, “the United States; Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and what is called the international region, made up of Latin America, Asia Pacific and Canada. I work with the international region.”
Valle is part of the infrastructure project and portfolio services team. He represents thirty-eight countries where 3M does business and oversees global service management processes and tools. He also serves as IT liaison in the deployment and support of mobile solutions.
Valle’s team has six members, each representing an area of tech expertise. The team reports to 3M’s CIO. “While we all have our areas of concentration, we interact and support each other a lot. Very fast I came to realize that everything is interconnected and what affects one area today will affect others tomorrow.”
Valle himself works with 162 contacts in his countries representing infrastructure, applications and helpdesks. “In each country, I work with unique situations and challenges regarding how to use tools and processes to provide IT support,” he explains.
“I represent the technology to make sure countries are using it the right way, but I also bring back to our technology managers the challenges and opportunities these countries are having. When the process is not working, my job is to find out why and fix it.”
Valle’s team is also proactive in finding ways to streamline procedures. “We recently created a communications template so, regardless of language barriers, time differences or anything else, 3M employees communicate with IT in the same way. It sounds simple,” Valle admits, “but it was complicated and took over a year to do. Some countries had their own template, in their own language, which represented their area. Through the entire process, I represented all the countries.”
Molded by family and hard work
Valle grew up in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and has been with 3M since he graduated from Minnesota State University (Mankato) in 2000 with a degree in computer information science. His father was an engineer and his mother a teacher. “They were my role models,” he says.
In 1994, after finishing high school, Valle came to the U.S. “I didn’t speak any English so, initially, school was not a priority. With no language and no money, my only choice was to work as cheap labor. I worked in pizza parlors, burger joints, butcher shops, and finally I became a migrant worker.
“When I came to work for Green Giant, I fell in love with Minnesota,” Valle smiles. “I asked around about education opportunities, which led me to Minnesota State University. A person in the Center for Latino Affairs at MSU guided me through the process of securing a school loan and helped me apply.”
Plotting a course for success
When he got accepted, he told himself two things. “First, choose something you like or you feel you can be good at. Second, choose a field that offers the best chance of landing a job right away.” Knowing that computer-related jobs were in high demand and paid well, he chose his path.
He got a job in the computer lab, an experience he says helped him when he interviewed for an internship his senior year. “I met some 3M representatives at my first-ever job fair,” he says. “I didn’t even own a coat and tie so the day before the interview, I went to the Goodwill store and bought the most decent-looking brown blazer I could find!”
Valle made the most of his internship experience, and right before graduation, was offered a fulltime job as a server administrator. “I took it with both hands and never let go,” he enthuses.
Moving up the ladder
Since then, Valle has moved up the ladder to his current role. “Thirteen years later and after a variety of great opportunities within 3M, I am still enjoying every day of it,” Valle declares. “It took me a while to understand the value of project management in the area of IT, but now I’m passionate about how it helps deliver better solutions.”
Valle is a member of the 3M Latino resource network group. He’s also a member of Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (shpe.org) and the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (nshmba.org).
And he’s a believer in mentoring. “It’s frustrating that we expect some kids to go to college without knowing how to get there,” Valle says. “No one in my family could tell me how to get into college. They said, ‘Yes, education is good,’ but no one knew how to do it. I see it in the faces of these Hispanic kids.”
Valle mentors and attends career days to promote science and “how to get there.” He also e-mentors high schoolers from Saint Paul through BestPrep (Brooklyn Park, MN), which fosters e-mail mentoring partnerships between professionals and students.
“At 3M, my next step is to master project management for IT. I want to expand my areas of knowledge, work with companies outside the United States and be known as a reliable person who can work in any country.
“I come from a culture that has a ‘can do anything’ attitude,” Valle asserts. “Hispanics and Latinos are like this. We work hard. We’re not afraid to put in extra time when it’s needed. We love to laugh and have fun at work. Everything revolves around our family, and we are good team members. Those things are highly valued in any company.”
Pablo Escribano manages server fulfillment at Allstate
His parents are from Puerto Rico, but Pablo Escribano is a native Illinoisan, born in Waukegan. He is a fulfillment manager working with the infrastructure deployment team at Allstate Insurance Company (Northbrook, IL).
“I coordinate server deployment efforts for my team. I work on all the platforms in our environment to provide internal client solutions.
“Maybe an Allstate business area wants to stand up a new feature for our agents in the field,” he says. “Once that’s all laid out, my team comes in and builds the infrastructure that makes that possible.”
His team members include people who design the solution, some who track execution to make sure nothing is missed, and others who deploy the server and get it ready for the clients.
A gift from Dad
When he was in middle school, his father bought Escribano a Laser 128 computer. “It was my first computer that I could mess with and program on. And when I was out in the workforce and saw the networking and storage side, it really told me that I wanted to work in the IT field.”
He attended Southern Illinois University (Carbondale), but family circumstances forced him to return home after a year. He enrolled at the College of Lake County Community College (CLC, Grayslake, IL) and worked a variety of side jobs.
Then Escribano attended his first career fair at CLC. “I met people from Allstate and learned about the company’s culture,” he says. “That first impression resonated with me. I got an idea of what Allstate stood for and the value they place on their customers. I went home and told my parents, ‘I think I’m going to be working for Allstate for a long time.’”
Allstate was a growing company with many opportunities. “They were seeking numerous job titles that were all interesting in their own way and there were many I thought I could fit into. Within a few days, I was offered a job. That was 1998.” He left CLC and went to work at Allstate.
At Allstate with something to prove
Escribano started in customer service but quickly moved up to the local helpdesk team. “I helped people with their computer issues. After a year, I was promoted to group leader where I did desktop support for three offices.”
In 2000, he married and became a father. In 2003, he was promoted to associate manager for desktop support at Allstate Financial and had his first experience with direct reports. “All this time, I was learning the Allstate system. I developed relationships with my peers and got the opportunity to lead a team. Those years provided the foundation for where I am today.”
He assumed his current role in 2009. Looking back to that first meeting at the career fair, Escribano believes that what he brought to the table was drive and motivation. “I haven’t gotten to where I am now by resting on my laurels,” he says. “I’ve tried to constantly strengthen myself. I don’t have that college degree yet, so I have to prove to people who do have one that I’m capable of working side-by-side with them.”
He is currently enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (Kenosha) working toward a degree in business and computer science.
Escribano is a member of Allstate’s Latino and veteran employee networks. “My father was a veteran so I joined that group to help support them,” he says.
“A mentor told me that at some point along the way you either have to focus on technical work or leadership,” says Escribano. “I want to be a leader first. I want to continue to sharpen my skills, get that college degree that has eluded me, broaden my exposure at work and try to make things better for my company, my team and my family.”
Hiring techies at Allstate
“Allstate employs thousands of technology and operations professionals,” notes Michael Escobar, vice president and chief diversity and organization effectiveness officer. “We hire IT architects, business analysts, systems engineers, information analysts, application developers and database administrators.”
He adds, “Allstate is committed to helping all employees realize their full potential, and we are a stronger company because of the high value we place on a diverse workplace. Hispanic employees bring a diverse set of cultural and professional values that benefit every aspect of our company’s operation.”
Jose Marquez does CSS development and support at Ameren
As senior programmer analyst at Ameren (St. Louis, MO), Jose Marquez and his team do customer service development and support, specifically for Ameren’s main customer service system. “We support services like e-billing, web middleware development and support, and internal web applications,” he says.
Ameren’s Illinois and Missouri regulated utility subsidiaries serve 2.4 million electric customers and more than 900,000 natural gas customers in a 64,000-square-mile area.
“The size of our team fluctuates depending on the project,” Marquez explains, “Generally we follow the development cycle, where we meet with the business unit and collect the requirements, develop estimates, propose high-level designs by senior and technical advisors, and then detail specifications and build the systems. Right now we’re working on a large project that involves thirty-five to forty people.”
This large project is aimed at increasing efficiency by centralizing all natural gas transportation IT functionality into one suite of interfacing programs. “Centralizing existing and new functionality will enable Ameren Illinois to automate enrollment and billing processes, reduce staff time associated with customer inquiries, and enhance customer satisfaction,” Marquez explains.
This interest in efficiency is characteristic of Ameren’s mission. “We are focused on a secure energy future,” says Betsy Miller, managing supervisor of workforce planning and development. “That requires a strong workforce that can only be achieved by including talented people from diverse backgrounds.”
Never stop learning
Marquez is from Venezuela. “I was always interested in IT, engineering and math,” he remembers. “My mother and father were both teachers, so they were my initial mentors.”
He says from an early age, he knew “you never stop learning. Even when you think you know the answer to a problem, there may be an alternate approach that leads to a better solution. In this business in particular,” he cautions, “you should never stop learning.”
The unstable political climate in Venezuela led his parents to send him to the United States to attend school. A couple of Marquez’s high school friends were attending Saint Louis University (St. Louis, MO). He enrolled there, attracted by the reputation of its foreign program. In 1991, he finished a BS in management information systems.
During college, Marquez interned in the psychiatric department of Missouri State Hospital. “I developed questionnaires for initial patient consultations and provided reporting support for the medical staff.”
As graduation approached, he started looking for a job. With a young daughter and a wife, he says, “I was working nights as a waiter. Times were rough in the early 1990s and fulltime jobs were hard to come by.”
Getting a foot in the door
Marquez got a job at the May Corporation (now Macy’s, New York, NY). He then moved to financial services company AG Edwards (now Wells Fargo Advisors, St. Louis, MO). He was there for about four years until 9/11 hit and the markets failed. “I had a couple of friends working for Ameren and they put in a good word for me.”
At Ameren, Marquez is a member of the technology leadership committee. Outside the company, he is a director in the Venezuelan Association in Missouri (AVMO, St. Louis, MO), in charge of its website, promotions and fundraising for Hispanic scholarship programs.
“I have always worked hard and taken advantage of opportunities in my life,” Marquez says. “My parents sacrificed a lot to send me to school in the United States and that is why I want to give back to the community. I volunteer at AVMO because we raise money to help Hispanic students pay for education. I believe education is the most important thing you can give to people.”
Marquez looks forward to a future at Ameren doing web development. “I’m not really interested in management positions,” he says. “I’m more of a technical person. I’m interested in refining my skills as a web developer to help Ameren develop new customer initiatives.
“After that, I want to retire and lie on the beach,” he laughs. “I’m fifty years old and looking forward to retirement and spending winters in a warmer place. I’d also like to continue my work with organizations like AVMO.”
Yolanda Baez: senior usability manager for CVS Caremark
In September, Yolanda Baez was promoted to RxConnect senior usability manager at CVS Caremark (Woonsocket, RI). CVS Caremark, an integrated pharmacy company, operates more than 7,600 CVS retail pharmacies and 750 MinuteClinic locations. RxConnect is the company’s proprietary pharmacy system that adjudicates insurance claims and manages patient profiles and outreach calls.
Baez was born in New York City, the oldest of four children. Her mother is from Ecuador and her father from the Dominican Republic. The family moved to Rhode Island when she was a child.
Pharmacy from the start
“I always liked science,” Baez says, “particularly chemistry. I knew I wanted to do something science related. What attracted me to pharmacy was that I could still help people without being as intimate as a doctor or a nurse.”
After one year at Northeastern University (Boston, MA), she got homesick and transferred to the College of Pharmacy at the University of Rhode Island (URI, Kingston, RI). In 1993, she worked as a pharmacy intern at a CVS pharmacy.
Baez earned a BS in pharmacy in 1994 and joined CVS full time in 1995. “Once I became an intern, I stayed. My first job was as a pharmacy manager in an area of Providence that had a highly Hispanic population. They thought I’d be a good fit because I know Spanish and nobody else there did.”
Later Baez was asked to manage a larger store with higher volume doing the same kind of work. And in 2002, just off maternity leave, Baez was offered a staff pharmacist position at a store that had the second-highest sales volume in the state.
A corporate opportunity
She transitioned from retail to corporate in 2007. “CVS was initiating a pilot program where calls to a pharmacy were routed through a call center. They asked me to participate and I said yes. By now, I knew the pharmacy computer system inside and out, what it could and couldn’t do.”
She joined the quality assurance team as a tester. In 2008, her manager left and Baez was asked to assume the interim role. “We had just transitioned to a new computer system,” she explains, “so we were working with offshore developers executing ‘day in the life’ scenarios to ensure user functionality at the prescription processing level, finding bugs and logging defects.”
In 2009, Baez was offered the position of usability manager, working with pharmacist and technician end users to make sure the system makes sense to them. She was brought into the CVS customer support center, which includes a 13,000-square-foot replica of a CVS store used for test purposes including a fully functional pharmacy where pharmacists and technicians test new enhancements to RxConnect. “I was overwhelmed and excited,” she says.
Her team worked closely with business analysts throughout the development lifecycle of enhancements to the computer system. “Our opinion carried a lot of weight and we were able to influence business decisions.
“We did a study using eye tracking equipment to identify what pharmacists are looking at on the screens when checking prescriptions. Based on what we learned, we’re going to be getting our own equipment this year to continue this research.”
In 2013, she was promoted from manager to senior manager. She now has five people reporting to her directly.
Baez is a member of CVS Caremark’s Portuguese Latino network group and its women’s resource group. Outside the organization, she is a certified usability analyst under Human Factors International (Fairfield, IA).
She’s working on her MBA at URI. “I want to continue moving up the ladder here,” Baez says. “I think my MBA will give me an advantage if I apply for other positions in IT.”
Diego Lopez manages a factory and test software team at DRS Technologies
“I like being able to relate to my peers on the computer science and software development side,” says Diego Lopez, “and then be a voice for the software team with other parts of the company.”
Lopez is the factory and test software manager at DRS CRISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, Dallas, TX), a division of DRS Technologies (Arlington, VA).
DRS is a global supplier of integrated products, services and support to military forces, intelligence agencies and prime contractors.
Born in Mexico City, Lopez came to the United States in 1986 as a toddler. “My dad has been an influence on me since I was a kid,” he says. “My first exposure to electronics was watching him. He was a computer engineer who started his own business in Mexico. It was an IT services company, but the IT services market was almost nonexistent in Mexico at the time. So he decided to sell his company so he could bring our family to the United States.”
The family moved to Dallas, New York City, and Plano, TX, and then to Winnipeg, Canada. They returned to Plano in Lopez’s junior year of high school. “I took a high school computer science course in Winnipeg and we had to develop a website. I combined my love of technology with my love of sports and came up with a site called ‘Sports Central,’ kind of a combination of ESPN and Sports Illustrated. That’s when I decided this really interested me and I could make it a career.”
Lopez attended Southern Methodist University (SMU, Dallas, TX). “It was close to home, had manageable class sizes, and had an up-and-coming engineering program,” Lopez explains. He graduated with a dual degree in computer engineering and mathematics in 2006.
For two semesters, he interned at a small company called G Systems (Richardson, TX), an integrator of test and measurement automation solutions. Lopez interned at DRS for three semesters and joined the company right after graduation.
“I kept my options open and interviewed at a few different companies, but I came back to DRS,” he says. “Both the team I was in and the company overall were growing at a rapid clip. During my last semester, in fall 2005, I worked as an engineer managing my own project.”
An easy transition to career
When Lopez came in full time, he knew the ropes and the team, and hit the ground running as a junior software engineer in the test software group.
In 2004, DRS won a contract for an uncooled thermal weapon sight system used by warfighters. “In 2005, we inherited all the production processes from a different DRS division. We inherited the software from a different company. It had a ton of bugs in it, but we needed to make it work. In 2007 it became my fulltime job to maintain and make process improvements to that suite of software.
“By 2009, with wars going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, products like this were deemed ‘high need’ by the military so DRS scaled up production. I was able to hire more people and start building a team. It was the first time I had direct supervision of anyone.”
In 2009, DRS went through a reorganization. Lopez’s boss moved on to a project engineering role and Lopez was tapped to take over the entire factory and test software team.
Lopez says the industry has been changed by the speed with which companies have to react to military and government customer needs. He believes that DRS provides opportunities as a result of this. “DRS has grown by acquiring a lot of other companies, so we have a lot of disparate systems and duplicate functions across our different sites. IT pros are needed to bring the systems together.”
Software has also expanded the efficiency of Lopez’s work. “We have a small team here, but we support more than one hundred stations because of the software architecture that has been implemented here over the years.”
Lopez looks forward to future challenges at DRS. “It’s all about the data,” he concludes. “First, how do we store all of the test data we collect? Second, how do we present it in a fashion that improves the quality of our product and gives our decision makers the tools they need to better understand what’s happening on the production floor? I think that’s where my growth will come from.”
David Perez directs the vision for Hewlett Packard’s lesser-known services
“I was always an inquisitive kid,” remembers David Perez. Perez is portfolio director in the travel and transportation industry group of Hewlett Packard (HP, Palo Alto, CA). He works in Texas supporting HP products in flight operations, mobility services, and service orientated architecture (SOA). “I manage the profit and loss of those offerings, and set the vision. I interact with clients in the marketplace to determine how well positioned our solutions are.” Perez focuses primarily on airlines, and engages with clients during pre-sales, sales, and post-sales activities.
People may not associate HP with services like flight operations, Perez says. “We have this same conversation with airlines themselves,” he says with a smile. “HP is a very large company, and one of our divisions is enterprise services.” The division works with industries including healthcare, the federal government, consumer retail products, and travel and transportation.
“We’re the services arm of HP, providing services wrapped around other HP offerings,” he explains. “We manage the majority of the computer systems on United, American and U.S. Airways from reservations through flight operations. Flight operations is really the heart of an airline,” says Perez. “It’s a behind-the-scenes applications area that manages how the aircraft moves within the airport and in the air. The process of getting the plane away from the gate and back in again at its destination is all flight operations. Ripping out an old system and putting in a new one with no downtime or interruption of service is an interesting task.”
Perez was born in San Antonio, TX and grew up in Garland, TX. He was always interested in technology and fascinated with computers, and math was his strongest skill. He attended the University of Texas-Arlington but left at the end of his junior year.
Getting started in the mail room
In 1989, while still in college, Perez got a job with American Airlines. “I actually started on the night shift in the mail room opening envelopes and scanning applications for its frequent flier program. What really hooked me on the airline, particularly being that young, were the flight benefits. We could fly to Memphis for a long lunch, then come back,” Perez laughs.
Later, Perez moved into the operations area of American. “I started seeing continuing business problems on the operational side, and I wondered why these couldn’t be solved using technology,” he says. “I looked at the problems from a business analyst perspective and became addicted to that concept.”
American used Sabre, explains Perez, a pioneering airline industry application for revenue management, pricing, flight scheduling, cargo, flight operations and crew scheduling. Perez became part of the Sabre organization. “That’s when I started traveling around the world visiting airlines, listening to their problems and seeing how technology could be applied to solve them.”
Working with leaders
In 2001, a portion of Sabre was acquired by Electronic Data Systems (EDS, Plano, TX). Perez educated EDS executives about what they had purchased, explaining its offerings and capabilities. But two months later 9/11 happened, and business came to a halt.
“Luckily our leadership saw an opportunity. Swissair had an IT unit similar to Sabre that they needed to sell. EDS acquired it in 2002.
“My job was to take a portion of the software we had acquired and turn it into a product offering. I spent two months living in Zurich working with leaders on the pursuit team. This was a pivotal part of my career, meeting these leaders who helped mentor me and helped me grow within the company,” Perez believes.
He was working on a large partnership with Continental Airlines to create a next-generation flight operations system when, in 2007, HP acquired EDS. Perez again found himself educating top people about what was going on. “Just as these issues were being resolved, Continental announced it was merging with United Airlines and their two IT systems had to be merged together. But we came back to the project, and today the flight operations system is built and available for sale in the marketplace,” he reports.
Perez wants to continue at HP, perhaps moving from airlines into other industries like hospitality and healthcare. “We’re such a huge company. I’m always amazed at how much we can do.”
Rafael Hiriart is a subsystem team leader at NRAO
“I’m a mid-level manager,” says NRAO’s Rafael Hiriart. “Part of my time is administrative, but I also get to participate in the technology. I’m a sergeant, not a general,” he laughs.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO, Green Bank, WV) is funded by the National Science Foundation and operates state-of-the-art radio telescopes that are used by astronomers around the world. Hiriart works at NRAO’s Socorro, NM facility.
He joined NRAO in 2005 after spending three years with its sister organization, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO, formerly Kitt Peak National Observatory, Tucson, AZ).
He was born in Santiago, Chile. “I didn’t have a computer when I was growing up, so I first started learning about them at the university. But as a kid, I was always inclined toward science,” he says. He attended the University of Chile (Santiago), where he earned a 1995 BSEE. The electrical engineering program in Chile takes six years to complete, and Hiriart graduated with the highest honor of “maximum distinction.”
“I began doing programming and liked it,” he continues. “I liked being able to build something and see it work.”
After graduation, Hiriart worked as a research engineer for the Mining and Metallurgical Research Center (CIMM, Santiago) working in electronics instrumentation.
In 1997, he moved to ENDESA (Santiago), Chile’s largest electric utility company, working as a software specialist on the system that controls the main Chilean electrical network.
“I spent Y2K looking at a screen,” he says with a chuckle. “They put me there so that if something happened, someone would be there to prevent a catastrophe. Of course, nothing happened.”
Hiriart joined a startup called Ubinet Telecom, but soon decided he wanted to move back into programming. “At the time, Chile didn’t have a very large technology industry.”
In 2001, Hiriart volunteered to come to the United States to work for the National Park Service in California at Death Valley National Park, guiding tours and helping with archaeological surveys.
After six months, Hiriart returned to Chile to look for a job in IT. He started at NOAO as a software engineer working as a project manager for the NOAO Science Archive.
In 2005, he moved to NRAO as an ALMA control subsystem developer. The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), representing an international partnership among countries in North America, Europe and East Asia in cooperation with the Republic of Chile, is the largest astronomical project in existence.
“I designed and implemented the telescope monitoring and configuration database,” he explains. “This holds configuration information for the whole telescope software and hardware systems.” He also participated in the integration and testing of the overall ALMA software system.
Back in the States
After several promotions, Hiriart assumed his current role at NRAO as ALMA control/correlator subsystem leader. This position brought him to the United States.
“I maintain the development plan for the control and correlator subsystems, and coordinate the development and support activities for upcoming and already-deployed releases. I’m also responsible for maintaining and documenting the software architecture of the system, defining the necessary modifications to fulfill requests made by scientific and engineering stakeholders.”
Hiriart supervises a team of ten people. “I have one foot on the astronomical side and one on the engineering side,” he notes. “My team includes astrophysicists, electrical engineers, computer programmers, and computer science professionals. It’s also diverse geographically with people from Germany, Cuba, Australia and the U.S.”
“So far, so good” is his assessment of his time at NRAO. “I feel this is a good place to develop a career. I’m working on things that I find exciting.”
Michael Perez oversees computer support groups at Samsung Austin Semiconductor
“Everybody knows my name but I don’t always know theirs,” admits Michael Perez with a smile.
Perez has a high-visibility position. His title at Samsung Austin Semiconductor (SAS, Austin, TX) is engineer III. “That’s my title, but my role is pretty broad,” he explains. “I supervise the support desk and manage a team of nine technicians as well as supervise another support group of third-party contractors. They are responsible mainly for hardware while we focus on software.
“Our job is to keep all our onsite computers running smoothly,” continues Perez. “We have about 2,800 here in Austin.”
Owned by Samsung Electronics Corporation Ltd, SAS manufactures logic components for digital services, personal computers, mobile phones, workstations and servers.
Perez says his role is largely administrative. “I develop the processes for the team to execute. I think of myself less as a manager and more as a coach. I’m not a micro-manager and I’m not here just to make other people work. I give projects designed to help them grow.”
First grad in family follows opportunity
Perez is from Laredo, TX, and the first in his family to graduate from a university. The family moved to Austin when his mother got a job as a schoolteacher there. During high school, Perez was a support desk intern at SAS for a year “until 9/11 happened and I was laid off.”
In 2002, Applied Materials called to offer him a part-time helpdesk position. In the meantime, Perez had enrolled at Texas State University (San Marcos). “It was close to home,” he says. “Also, I wanted to stay close to the growing technical scene in Austin so I could build contacts and networking opportunities.”
He worked for Applied Materials while he was in school but stayed close to the people he had met at SAS. “They kept asking me when I was going to graduate because they wanted me to come back,” Perez says.
In 2006, shortly after graduating with a BBA in management, he went to work on the SAS support desk. “A year later, I was promoted to engineer III, supervising other employees, and that’s what I’m doing today.”
Perez was happy to get back to Samsung. “There were rumors at Applied Materials that they were going to outsource their helpdesk and, sure enough, they did that a year after I joined Samsung,” he says. “And Samsung was growing. They were breaking ground on a new building and I wanted to be part of that.”
At SAS, Perez works with the Great Workplace team, coordinating team-building events. He aspires to have his own business some day. “Even though I have a business degree, all my experience has been in IT,” he says. “I love technology and I have some ideas that I’d like to implement to make life easier for everyone.”
Tizoc Suarez leads Latin American IT optimization efforts at Walmart
“I enjoy international implementations,” Tizoc Suarez says enthusiastically. “During my time with Walmart, I have been very involved with several integrations in different countries.”
Global retailer Walmart (Bentonville, AR) operates almost 12,000 stores in twenty-seven countries. It also has e-commerce websites in ten countries. With fiscal year 2013 sales of approximately $466 billion, Walmart serves approximately 245 million customers each week.
In 2013, Suarez moved to Costa Rica to assume his new position as CIO for the global services system of Walmart in Latin America. His IS team of just twenty-one people will interface with approximately 3,500 stores in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
“We migrate processes from the countries to the data center and then optimize them to improve productivity,” he explains.
Previously, Suarez was vice president of integration and information systems for Central America, in charge of deploying Walmart systems in Central America. He also led the information systems division for the region. “I was the CIO for the region and also had responsibility for the integration process. We had acquired a number of stores in these countries, some of which had been in operation for sixty years or more. Technologically, my main responsibility was to implement Walmart systems in the region, including infrastructure installation and training.”
But technology was only one of his responsibilities. “We had to get them to buy into the Walmart systems and explain why they needed to change. This change management was the most challenging part of my job.”
The start of a promising career
Born in Mexico City, Suarez was always interested in IT and math. “When I was in junior high school in the 1980s, I got a Tandy TRS-80. It had just come out, and I had to have one,” he recalls.
Suarez studied engineering and CS at the Instituto Technologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM, Monterrey, Mexico) and earned his undergraduate degree in 1986. He is currently working on his MBA from ITESM.
“After I graduated I decided to join the consulting division of Arthur Andersen. It had a reputation as a good professional experience and I had the opportunity to learn about IT in different industries: retail, insurance, banking and manufacturing.”
In 1990, he was asked to be the information systems manager for Cooper Industries in Mexico. “This was my first time as the head of a department.”
An exciting opportunity at Walmart
But after five years, he was looking for a new challenge. “Walmart had just acquired a large retail chain called Cifra, and I joined to lead the hardware implementation of the Walmart systems there. I moved to Bentonville and was there for six years as manager of international systems. In 2003, I had the opportunity to move to Puerto Rico to lead the integration of the Amigo supermarket chain that we acquired. After four years in Puerto Rico, I was assigned to Central America, based in Costa Rica.” There he led the IS division and IS integration teams for six years before returning to the home office in 2013.
“After having the opportunity to see different Latin cultures at work, I’ve learned that each one has its unique flavor, but they all have a lot of similarities as well. It has also given me the opportunity to understand American culture better.
“I see this new assignment lasting a couple of years and then we’ll see,” Suarez says. “I’ve stopped trying to plan for the long term. I take things a couple of years at a time, try to have fun with what I’m doing, and make the most of it.”
Andres Guevara is a senior solutions engineer advisor at WellPoint
“Education is important regardless of ethnic background,” stresses Andres Guevara, senior solutions engineer advisor at WellPoint, Inc (Indianapolis, IN). “If students have the grades, they can find financial assistance at a variety of schools that will help them open doors to their future. IT is a great field and it’s becoming more and more important.”
Health benefits company WellPoint serves more than 67 million people via its affiliated companies, including approximately 36 million enrolled in its health plans. It is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association serving members in fourteen states.
Guevara works in the financial operations applications area. He’s based in WellPoint’s Columbus, GA office, where he works with a team of about sixty technical developers and analysts located across the U.S. “I advise and problem solve on technical issues, and work on designs and solutions for projects that are business initiatives or federal or state mandates. I’m also a software release manager for a portion of our IT organization.”
Updating and complying
“As technology changes, we need to make sure that we are efficient, up to date and up to speed,” Guevara says. “Last year we consolidated and retired an old legacy system that processed certain financial transactions. We worked with many different areas in the IT space to design a system based on newer technology.”
Guevara is involved in WellPoint’s compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). “I worked with Georgia and California,” he says. “I made sure the EDI systems in Georgia were ready to meet the deadline for implementation. California was a similar effort.”
He’s also focused on meeting deadlines established by implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “I work with different teams to schedule changes, meet deadlines, and make sure things are moved to our production environment on time without affecting other processes.”
Guevara is from Costa Rica. “In high school, I got to see PCs at work and found it interesting. I thought I could make a career out of that,” he recalls. With an eye on coming to this country, he enrolled at the University of Costa Rica (San Jose), majoring in foreign languages. After three semesters, he took advantage of an opportunity to come to the U.S.
Making the most of scholarships
“We had groups of mission teams coming to Costa Rica. I met a Methodist minister from Tennessee who knew about Hiwassee College (Madisonville, TN), and he told them about me. They had a program to increase the number of foreign students to enrich their campus life. It was through that program I received a scholarship.”
Guevara ultimately got full scholarships to three schools. He attended Hiwassee then transferred to Tennessee Wesleyan College (Athens) where he earned a 1990 BSCS. After this, he enrolled at the University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL) where he got a 1992 MSCS.
Since he was in the U.S. on a student visa, Guevara started sending out “hundreds of letters” in April in order to line up a job before his July graduation. He landed one with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia (BCBSGA, Atlanta, GA).
Guevara started at BCBSGA as a software developer. “My first project was to redesign a tracking system for internal use,” he remembers. He moved on to other, larger IT projects. When BCBSGA became part of WellPoint in 2001, these projects expanded to other states. “When you grow through acquisition, you inherit a lot of systems that do similar things. To gain efficiencies, you have to centralize as much as possible.”
Within WellPoint, Guevara is a member of Somos, the Hispanic/Latino associate resource group. His Hispanic background was useful last year when WellPoint launched its Hispanic website portal.
“It’s a lot of fun to think about what’s ahead,” he says with a smile. “IT is always changing, and that’s my focus. What do I have to do to stay current with the topics relevant to my job? What can I do to apply all of this information? How do I bring value to WellPoint?”
A workforce that reflects the community
“Our nine associate resource groups work to raise awareness about different cultures, including the Hispanic culture,” says Karin Sarratt, vice president of talent management and chief diversity officer at WellPoint.
“We know that talent is at its best in a collaborative environment. Our associates are encouraged to bring their own perspectives and ideas to their jobs and work together to help ensure that our products and services reflect the diverse needs of our members.”
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